The 25th anniversary edition of the Slamdance Film Festival kicks off Jan. 25-31 in Park City, Utah, with a line-up of world premieres, guest speakers and filmmaking seminars all geared toward fresh storytellers who are looking for their cinematic breakthroughs.
This year, further underscoring a desire for world cinema, there are 11 narrative and nine documentary features that will be showcased in competition, from Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Germany, India, Italy, Kenya, Poland, South Africa and the U.K., alongside the U.S. All competition films are feature-length directorial debuts with budgets of less than $1 million, and lack American distribution.
Founded by current president Peter Baxter, as well as Jon Fitzgerald, Shane Kuhn, Dan Mirvish and Paul Rachman, Slamdance has screened more than 2,000 films over the years, with notable alumni including Christopher Nolan (whose 1999 drama “Following” debuted at the fest), Oren Peli (“Paranormal Activity”), Bong Joon-ho (“Okja”), Lynn Shelton (“Outside In”), Ari Aster (“Hereditary”), Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Shots Fired”) and Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”).
“It’s a milestone year and we’re going to be celebrating with some amazing new voices,” Baxter says. “We’ve become successful because we’ve stayed true to our original mission, in that Slamdance would be a festival built by and for filmmakers.”
This year shows no shortage of ambitious projects on display. Tyro helmer Andrew Patterson, who directed the buzzed-about ’50s sci-fi drama “The Vast of Night,” says: “Slamdance and their values line up with my thought process more than any festival in the world, and I love that it’s entirely merit-based. We chose Slamdance because they were so excited about the work.” Patterson’s ambitious debut took two years to complete, but his journey to becoming a filmmaker has lasted more than two decades.
“I hope in 25 years, I’m invited back to talk with that generation’s storytellers.”
Other buzzy titles include gun-safety doc “Behind the Bullet,” and feature efforts “Cat Sticks,” “Spiral Farm” and “Hurry Slowly.”
Receiving Slamdance’s 2019 Founders Award is Steven Soderbergh, an alumnus who has continued to support and represent the Slamdance organization in a variety of ways over the past two decades.
“I’ve had a long relationship with Slamdance, going back to Greg Mottola’s ‘The Daytrippers,’and I’m ideologically supportive of anyone who decides to make anything creative happen,” Soderbergh says.
The filmmaker will participate in a discussion with Baxter before the world premiere of his newest film, “High Flying Bird,” which hits Netflix on Feb. 8. “Slamdance has an infectious spirit, and they’ve never had a lot of resources but everyone involved is passionate about the work, and they really want to be there. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?”
New this year is the Breakouts section, which presents efforts from feature directors who aren’t rookies and who demonstrate a singular vision of filmmaking that continues to push the boundaries of the form, with the festival’s goal of helping these individuals find bigger audiences for their work. The 2019 Breakouts feature the work of several Slamdance alumni, including Soderbergh, who executive produced “Beats,” and Canadian filmmaker Alexandre Franchi, who received the audience award for narrative feature at the 2010 festival for “The Wild Hunt.”
In addition, the Russo Fellowship, which was launched in 2018 by the blockbuster duo of Anthony and Joe Russo (“Avengers: Infinity War”), returns with its $25,000 prize. Presented by AGBO Films in partnership with the festival, the inaugural fellowship was awarded to Yassmina Karajah for her short “Rupture.” She also scored an office and mentorship at the Russos’ new Los Angeles-based studio, along with a cash stipend for one year.